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Jessica Abrams
Theater Reviews
Theatre of Note
United States
Greater Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA

"HOT CAT" Re-heats A Classic

by Jessica Abrams
May 30, 2013
Theatre of Note
1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Most of us are familiar with the story. Former track star turns to booze; his ripe wife, not quite ready to give up her dreams, pines lustily and bets her youth on his quick turnaround. The former jock's dying father wants to leave the farm to him – his favorite son – buts needs an heir to justify doing so (and did we mention that Jock has no interest in fulfilling his husbandly duties?). Meanwhile, Jock's lawyer brother, possessing neither the talent nor the looks to be the favorite but having the heirs in spades, is primed to assume the role of gentleman farmer.

When Tennessee Williams tells it, high drama ensues. In "Hot Cat" at Theatre of Note, high jinx set to a mambo beat provide a new take on the feral Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. With choreography by Tina Kronis and text by Richard Alger – the team behind Theatre Movement Bazaar – the re-telling of this gothic classic is filled with iconic gestures, new plays on old tropes, and humor. Lots of humor.

Theatre Movement Bazaar merges elements of dance, text, and media from various sources into performance. It describes its mission as "investigat[ing] these elements, modifying or neutralizing them, de-contextualizing them from their sources. Liberated from their contexts, these elements are free to be structured in new and surprising ways, creating a connotative network of new and reverberant meanings. In this multifarious approach, [it] strives to reinvigorate theatre for the contemporary audience."

Not surprisingly, "Hot Cat" finds its home at Theatre of NOTE, a critically-acclaimed theatre space and company in the heart of Hollywood. Formerly a springboard for edgy, new one-act plays, NOTE has since ventured into the world of full-length; but it still retains its experimental feel, with this new work a prime example.

The story of Maggie and Brick is told not through linear narrative but through riffs on iconic elements of the story: wasted talent, indolence, women who connive to get what they want, and the archetypal need to hold onto youth by any means necessary. The play opens with the three couples in a percussive mambo, a dance so teasing and flirty it's as at home South of the Mason-Dixon as South of the Border. Text spoken by the actors not so much to each other as to the audience cuts into the movement like ice into bourbon, anchoring us back into the key aspects of the play. Big Mama, played with humor, charm and pathos by the effervescent Blaire Chandler, gives us her theory on a man's love for warm biscuits. Knowing the play, Big Mama's speech takes the co-dependent and man-pleasing character a step further in this lesson, in much the same way her later "seminar" on a woman's looks does.

Brick waxes poetic for "the click", the feeling he gets when the alcohol finally sets in, in a song he sings and plays on his guitar. Speaking of which, props are cleverly located and used with humor: a coke bottle pulled out of a jacket pocket. A stuffed monkey used as a football when the whole messed-up family indulges in a choreographed game. Chairs are pulled out, rearranged, and at times even sat on to illustrate the characters' roles in the story – or, more accurately, the story about the story.

Gestures provide another means to decode Williams' iconic work. A look, a flick of the hand, a turn of the head – no movement is insignificant, none wasted. According to one actor I spoke with after the show, even a finger out of place was scrutinized during the intense four-week rehearsal period.

It was well worth it. The movement is tight and sharp. The actors seem to welcome using their bodies to bring forth their characters into this new dimension. All six have such a close connection with the iconic roles they're playing they can almost step back and laugh with us.

That, along with the many surprises "Hot Cat" has in store, makes this play really cook.
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